THE CHRYSANTHEMUM

AND THE SWORD

Bill Tanner hadn't had a particularly good Christmas. As part of the Senior Command Team it had been his turn to run the office. So, although he hadn't missed any social functions, he had been required to be sober and to trundle into London while half the work force at Millennium House stayed at home. Everyday, excepting Christmas Day, he'd presented himself before the big white building on the south bank of the Thames, been searched by the ultra-tight security teams and spent eight mostly humdrum hours in control of the British Secret Service. The Christmas season was generally a quiet one. Even espionage seemed to take this traditional holiday. This year things had been slightly less mundane.

M rarely took holidays, but she was always in Scotland during the festive season, although the term "off duty" could never be reasonably applied to her. Every morning she received important dispatches by twenty four hour courier and, after reading them, she would telephone Tanner for an update. Her reassurances helped, but essentially Tanner saw himself as a top civil servant, not a power broker or negotiator. He was excellent at day to day routines – it was one his strengths and the main reason M had requested he be promoted to Chief of Staff – but the troublesome, more diplomatic role, of acting Head of Service, sat uneasily on his shoulders. Top level meetings with government ministers and advisors made him anxious. He'd had to visit the foreign office three times this season; twice to explain the department's position after another Russian oligarch suffered uranium poisoning and then again following the death of the aid worker Stephen Bachman. These intense question and answer sessions rarely resolved a situation. Ministers always seemed quick to criticise and Tanner knew he didn't quite have the wit for these confrontations. He left the F.O. three times feeling he'd been present at less of a debriefing and more of a ticking off.

Dealing with dithering members of the cabinet was M's territory. When she sensed reluctance to authorise direct action, she seized the imitative, like a boxer, and forced her point home. M's cut-throat delivery of her department's actions usually left ministers in no mood to interfere or question her decisions. With her astute reasoning, M usually got her way, unless her intentions clearly conflicted with current government policies. Even then she would disguise the service's manoeuvres with terms like "unavoidable accident", "cursory observations" or, at worst, "unintentional incident." She shouldered a lot of responsibility, both good and bad. Bill Tanner was quite glad she was back on hand this January 4th.

Tanner settled at his desk just before seven. Rosemary brought him coffee and he picked up the sheaf of daily bulletins. Most of these were innocuous communications, dull and trivial. The filtering system used wasn't always as efficient as it claimed. Half way down the pile, Tanner paused and read a communiqué three times before placing it to one side. Once he'd signed off the remaining reports, he returned to this one message. It had grabbed his attention because it was sent via the telex system, not secure high speed email. The telex, while not completely obsolete, certainly wasn't in general use. The machines which did exist used the modern Baudet codes and mostly resided with sleeper agents and retired field officers. A previous Head of Service had famously declared them as being "only good for the cricket scores" and had one installed in his office precisely for that purpose. Tanner didn't know there was a Swiss model, a portable MUX-B, in use in Singapore. He read the message again. It was headed Universal Exports and was something of a conundrum: DROP DEAD IN SINGAPORE YOU AINT SEEN NOTHING YET SOON.

Tanner spent an hour making telephone calls. Next, he got Rosemary to deliver a brief memorandum to M. Meanwhile three files arrived from the Registrar of Records. The first was a summary of the activities of the military regime in Burma, a country now renamed Myanmar. Tanner, like many British citizens simply refused to use that name, a sort of mental hangover from when half of Malaya was part of Britain's long diminished Empire. The service documents followed a similar unwritten rule. The second file was on chemical weapons manufacture. The third was the service record of the late Stephen Bachman.

Tanner read the files quickly, highlighting points of interest. He received and made more telephone calls. At ten o'clock the foreign office advisor for South East Asia arrived at his office and for half an hour they discussed Tanner's concerns. Afterwards, Tanner called in Rosemary and, using the details he'd garnered that morning, dictated the contents of a new operational dossier. He was ready to meet M just after noon.

M looked refreshed and cheerful, which was unusual, and as he took his seat, Tanner happened to remark on it.

"Thank you, Tanner," she replied warmly, "Over Christmas I became a grandmother. There's nothing like a new arrival to spark a family celebration. I had a very good holiday. Now," M curtly turned into her businesslike self, "What have you got for me?"

"Stephen Bachman – our undercover man in Malaya. You may recall he was killed in Burma over Christmas. Well, something's come to light, something unexpected, but, if I'm right, very useful in the fight against General Shwe's military regime."

M offered Tanner some coffee. "Remind me why Bachman was in Burma."

"He's an intelligence gatherer. He's also a legitimate representative of the Living Aid Foundation," explained Tanner, accepting the refreshment with a nod of thanks, "He did some good work for us, nothing spectacular, but useful none the less. Recently he's been working in Thailand. He's filed several reports regarding the treatment of the Karenni, a displaced people: half of them live in Thailand and the rest are subjected to persecution in Burma. The Burmese junta seems to want them out or exterminated. Last year Bachman managed to organise some aid convoys, but the last trip was a disaster. The Burmese claim it was the Karen Resistance Army who attacked the convoy and, although officially we haven't commented, the facts don't bear this out. The circumstances of his death suggest the effects of some sort of respiratory agent."

"So Bachman was murdered. Can we prove it – emphatically?"

"We don't think so. But Bachman wants to tell us something from beyond the grave, so to speak." Tanner noted M's look of disapproval at the euphemism. He quickly handed over the telex. "This arrived today."

M read the message once. "Cryptic," was her only comment.

"Yes, Ma'am. The Bachman Turner Overdrive."

"I'm not an ingénue, Tanner," M appeared to be losing patience, "I do remember the seventies. What's this all about? Why's it come on a telex? We haven't used those beastly things for years."

"I made a few discreet calls to the L.A.F. I think it's from his girlfriend."

"Girlfriend? The papers said he was married."

"One of his colleagues mentioned of an affair between Bachman and an air hostess called Lamai Sun Thorn. He referred to this girl by a pet name, Soon or Soonie. It's how you pronounce her surname, Ma'am, "Soon-Torn"."

"So she sent the telex?"

"I believe so," answered Tanner. He saw was a look of perplexion on M's face, as if he was pitching a bad marketing idea. He knew the expression; it was time to end his explanation. "It's only a hunch, but I think she's asking for a dead drop. Perhaps she has something for us. Something Bachman gave her."

"Evidence?"

"Possibly."

"This whole story is something and possibly. It could be absolutely nothing. What do we have on this girl? Anything at all?"

Tanner handed over the dossier he'd compiled. "I've summarised the necessary information. If you turn to Appendix ~"

"No, thank you, Tanner," interrupted M. Her usual frostiness and authoritive tone returned. "Leave it with me. I'll call you after lunch."

M didn't open Tanner's dossier for some time, choosing instead to complete her own correspondence and then make a single telephone call. The Wilson's were coming to dinner and she wanted to check with the housekeeper that everything was in hand. Once ready she poured herself another cup of coffee and opened the untitled blue document wallet. The dossier was typed in capital letters with no punctuation except full stops and commas. Like its author, the script wasn't the most florid, more concise and matter of fact. This was why she appreciated Tanner. He didn't fuss. The first page was dated and headed: PROSPECTIVE ACTION IN SINGAPORE – REGARDING INTEL FROM OPERATIVE 439 (DECEASED). She read on.

OPERATIVE 439: DR. STEPHEN BACHMAN BSC 39YRS MARRIED WITH TWO CHILDREN. A SPECIALIST IN BLOOD DISEASES INCLUDING ANEMIA, HEOMPHILIA, LYMPHOCYTOPENIA, THROMBOCYTOPENIA AND THE HUMAN IMMUNODEFICIENCY VIRUS.

BACHMAN CHOSE TO ESCHEW RESEARCH TO WORK FOR THE LIVING AID FOUNDATION. THIS APPEARS TO BE A POLITICALLY MOTIVATED DECISION AS WELL AS A HUMANITARIAN ONE. DURING HIS FIRST POSTING HE HAD A REPUTATION FOR OUTSPOKENESS, BECOMING A SHORTLIVED MOUTHPIECE AGAINST THE SUDANESE GOVERNMENT. HE WAS SUBSEQUENTLY DEPORTED. HE WAS NEXT APPOINTED TO SOMALIA WHERE HE RAISED AWARENESS OF THE REFUGEE CRISIS.

THE EAST AFRICAN DIVISION CONTACTED BACHMAN OSTENSIBLY TO OBTAIN OBSERVATIONS FROM THE WAR ZONE. HE WAS GIVEN THE FIELD NUMBER 439. HIS GOOD CONTACTS AND RELATIVE FREEDOM ALLOWED HIM TO PROVIDE INTELLIGENCE ON TROOP MOVEMENTS, CORRUPTION AND HUMAN RIGHTS ABUSES. DURING THIS PERIOD HE MET AND MARRIED JEAN NEWLEY, A CO-WORKER. IT IS UNCLEAR WHETHER SHE HAS EVER BEEN AWARE OF HIS DUAL FUNCTION.

DURING THE GUBAN OFFENSIVE 439 IDENTIFIED SUDANESE MILITARY ADVISORS, WHO ENCOURAGED THE WIDESPREAD ANARCHY RESULTING IN A SERIES OF MASSACRES. HE ALSO WITNESSED THE DEPLOYMENT OF MILITARY EQUIPMENT AND PERSONEL IN THE REGION, WHICH ALLOWED US TO ISSUE CODE BLUE WARNINGS TO BRITISH AND INTERNATIONAL WORKERS. THE LACK OF A RELIABLE INTERNET NETWORK IN EAST AFRICA MEANT 439S TRANSCRIPTS CAME VIA MUX-B TELEX, IN CODED SHORTHAND.

AFTER TEN YEARS IN SOMALIA 439 RETURNED HOME WITH HIS FAMILY AND TOOK AN ADMINISTRATIVE POSITION WITH L.A.F. FOUR YEARS AGO HE SET UP THE FEATHER PROJECT IN THAILAND, STUDYING TROPICAL DISEASES SUCH AS YELLOW AND DENGUE FEVER, SCHISTOSOMIASIS AND FILARIASIS. HIS WORK BROUGHT HIM INTO CONTACT WITH THE KARENNI, AN ETHNIC MINORITY, AND 439 BEGAN TO TAKE AN ACTIVE INTEREST IN THEIR PLIGHT. {SEE APPX 1}

439 VISITED RANGOON, SHOWING A SURPRISING GIFT FOR NEGOTIATION, AND WAS ABLE TO ORGANISE AID CONVOYS INTO THE MILITARISED ZONE. WITHOUT PROMPTING 439 CHOSE TO SEND US NEW INTEL FROM BANGKOK. IT APPEARS HE HAD BEEN FORGOTTEN. THE MALAY DIVISION SUBSEQUENTLY PROVIDED ACCESS TO THE SECURE EMAIL SERVICE. (M made a mental note to get Robinson, the Human Resources Supervisor, to chase up the whereabouts of all operatives; she wondered how many more had been "forgotten" and were still on the department's payroll.) 439 REPORTED THE ACTIVITIES OF THE BURMESE MILITARY. THIS INFORMATION REMAINED COVERT AS IT WOULD HAVE COMPROMOISED HIS HUMANITARIAN WORK. {SEE APPX.2}

439 WAS ARRESTED BY THE MILITARY INTELLIGENCE SERVICE IN MANERPLAW FOR ATTENDING AN ILLEGAL POLITICAL MEETING, BUT WAS LATER RELEASED. THIS WAS PERCEIVED AS A GOODWILL GESTURE, AS THE AUTHORITIES CAME UNDER STRONG DIPLOMATIC PRESSURE. TRANSMISSIONS BY 439 AFTER THIS TIME DESCRIBE ACTIVITIES AGAINST HIM. {SEE APPX.2}

439 STAYED PERMANENTLY IN BANGKOK, BECOMING ESTRANGED FROM HIS FAMILY. HE BEGAN AN AFFAIR WITH AIR HOSTESS. {SEE APPX.3}

439 ARRANGED MORE AID CONVOYS IN DECEMBER LAST YEAR, BUT THE DELIVERY SCHEDULE SUFFERED INTERFERENCE FROM THE LOCAL MILITIA, INCLUDING BRIBARY AND BLACKMAIL. THERE WERE UNCONFIRMED REPORTS OF FIGHTING AND LOOTING. THE MILITARY BLAMED THE KAREN RESISTANCE. ACCORDING TO THE AUTHORITIES 439S LAST CONVOY WAS ATTACKED BY THE K.R.A. THE 8 L.A.F. WORKERS WERE KILLED AND THE SUPPLIES SEIZED. {SEE APPX. 4}

THE BODIES WERE FLOWN TO BANGKOK AND ON EXAMINATION APPEAR TO HAVE BEEN POSTHUMOUSLY MUTILATED, THE REAL CAUSE OF DEATH BEING A CHOKING AGENT, SIMILAR TO THOSE IDENTIFIED IN 439S OWN REPORTS .{SEE APPX. 5} THE BURMESE FLATLY DENY ANY SUCH CHARGE, ALTHOUGH IT IS WIDELY UNDERSTOOD THEY DO POSSESS CHEMICAL AND BIOLOGICAL WEAPONS.

TODAY GCHQ RECEIVED A TELEX MESSAGE FROM A MUX-B IN SINGAPORE. {SEE APPX. 2} THE MESSAGE WAS ENCRYPTED WITH THE SAME MASKING CODES USED BY 439. RECORDS INDICATE HE WAS STILL IN POSSESSION OF AN MUX-B. WHILE 439 COULD NOT HAVE SENT THE MESSAGE (M raised her eyebrows at the glaring obvious statement.) IT MAY WELL HAVE BEEN DISPATCHED ON HIS INSTRUCTION.

M poured herself another cup of coffee. Bachman certainly wasn't the most guarded of intelligence gatherers, but he had served a purpose. Despite herself she had a gut feeling about the man's story. She turned to the extract documents Tanner had supplied.

APPENDIX 1 – THE KARENNI

THE KARENNI ARE AN INDIGENOUS ISLAMIC PEOPLE LIVING IN THE NORTH EAST OF BURMA. THROUGHOUT THE 1980S THEY LED OPPOSITION FORCES IN A LONG CIVIL WAR. SINCE THE WAR ENDED THEY HAVE SUFFERED CONSTANT PERSECUTION. MANY KAREN FLED THE COUNTRY AND LIVE IN THAILAND. THE THAI GOVERNMENT HAS LITTLE REGARD FOR THE KAREN EITHER, DESPITE MANY NOW BEING THAI CITIZENS. THERE IS A STEADY INFLUX OF REFUGEES FROM BURMA ENSURING A GROWTH OF SQUALLID SHANTY TOWNS STRAGGLING THE BORDER REGIONS. BASIC SANITATION IS LACKING AND FOOD SHORTAGES ARE NORMAL. DISEASE IS RIFE. THE SITUATION IS NO BETTER IN BURMA WHERE GENERAL THAN SHWE RUTHLESSLY SUPRESSES ANY POTENTIAL BREAKAWAY STATE. IT IS ESTIMATED OVER 200,000 KAREN HAVE BEEN DRIVEN FROM THIER HOMELANDS INTO THE PA-AN REGION.

BURMA IS STILL CLASSED BY THE UNITED NATIONS AS AN OUTPOST OF TYRANNY. THE PERSECUTION AND HOUSE ARREST OF THE NOBEL PRIZE WINNER AND POLITICAL ACTIVIST AUNG SAN SUUKYI SITS AT ODDS WITH GENERAL SHWES CLAIMS TO RUN A LEGITIMATE DEMOCRATIC ADMINISTRATION. THE NATIONAL LEAGUE FOR DEMOCRACY HAS REPORTED HUMAN RIGHTS ABUSES FOR MANY YEARS AND THE TREATMENT OF THE KAREN IS A FURTHER EXAMPLE OF THE REGIEMES DISREGARD FOR INTERNATIONAL OPINION.

M was well aware of the totalitarian regime in Burma. She'd had dealings with them in the past; they were suspicious inward looking rulers, content to sit on their accumulated wealth while the rest of the country went to ruin. This attitude was all too prevalent in many parts of the world and it angered M. She considered it born as much out of individual ignorance as contempt for a country's civilian population. She turned to the second set of extracts, a thick sheaf of papers containing all of Bachman's correspondence since his posting to Bangkok. Underneath the heading APPENDIX 2 – TRANMISSIONS FROM 439, Tanner had listed the most relevant communiqués. M read them quickly, but only two interested her:

28 AUGUST – RETURNED TO PA-AN WITH JOW. DIFFICULT TO OBTAIN TRAVELLING VISA THIS TIME. 6 HOURS OF QUESTIONS. 2 DAYS TRAVEL. VERY BAD CONDITIONS. VILLAGERS DESCRIBE CAMPS, PRISONS AND TORTURE. INDISCRIMINATE EXECUTIONS. JOW AND A LOCAL GUIDE LEAD ME TO THE PRISON CAMP. BARBED WIRE ENCLOSURE DISGUISED AS GRASS AND WOOD FENCING. WOODEN HUTS. ARMED GUARDS. LOCATION UNSUITABLE FOR AN ARMY OUTPOST. TOO REMOTE. TOO HIDDEN. NO COMMUNICATION TOWER. NO REGULAR WATER SUPPLY. AIRSTRIP 4 KM WST. OPEN GROUND 2 KM STH. GROUND BROKEN AND REPLANTED. GUIDES CLAIM THIS HIDES MASS GRAVE. LOCAL VILLAGE RECENTLY DEVASTATED. BODIES DECOMPOSING. HARD TO TELL DIRECT CAUSE. MUCH MUTILATION AND SCAVENGING. BREASTS AND GENITALS REMOVED. HEADS STUCK ON STAKES. SCALPS MISSING. EXPOSED SKIN BLISTERED. BLOOD CLOTTING AROUND THE MOUTH. SIMILAR TO MUSTARD GAS REACTIONS.

12 DECEMBER – SHADOWS FOLLOW US EVERYWHERE. ONLY TIME WE DONT SEE THEM IS IN BED. THEY WORK SHIFTS NOW. WE KNOW THEM LIKE A FAMILY. WE EVEN SAY HELLO. BUT WE ARE TRAPPED. WE MUST BE BUGGED. THEY ARE EVERYWHERE WE GO.

M particularly noted the use of the plural pronoun when 439 reported from Bangkok, but when in the field he reverted to the singular. She shuffled the papers together and turned to the third document, a summary of the woman in the story.

APPENDIX 3 – INTELLIGENCE ON LAMAI SUN THORN

THAI CITIZEN, MID-20S, AIR STEWARDESS WITH THAI AIRWAYS INTERNATIONAL. DETAILS ARE INCOMPLETE. A RELATIONSHIP FORMED BETWEEN 439 AND HER ABOUT 2 YEARS AGO. 439 IS ESTRANGED FROM HIS FAMILY, WHO APPEAR UNAWARE OF THE AFFAIR. ENQUIRIES WITH THE AIRLINE CONFIRM SHE RECENTLY TOOK A POST AT THEIR OFFICES IN SINGAPORE, A BENEFIT OF HER EXCELLENT LANGUAGE SKILLS. CURRENTLY MI6 DOES NOT POSSESS ANY PHOTOGRAPHS.

This was as thin a profile as M had ever seen. She wondered if the girl had taken the post in Singapore because of the "shadows." They appeared to be a disturbing presence, while not necessarily an out-and-out hostile one. She carried on reading:

APPENDIX 4 – REPORTS OF THE DEATH OF 439

OFFICIAL BURMESE TRANSCRIPT (MI6 TRANSLATION):

A LIVING AID FOUNDATION CONVOY WAS GRANTED ACCESS TO THE PA-AN REGION. IT COMPRISED FIVE ALL TERRAIN VEHICLES DELIVERING MEDICAL SUPPLIES TO LOCAL VILLAGES. THE AUTHORITIES PLACED AN ARMED ESCORT ON THE CONVOY TO PROTECT IT FROM INSURGENT KAREN GEURILLAS. THE CONVOY SETTLED IN THE VILLAGE OF BWA DER AND ENCOUNTERED RESISTANCE FROM THE LOCAL PEOPLE, RESULTING IN THE DEATH OF ONE OF THE GUARDS. REPARITIVE ACTION WAS INITIATED BY ESCORT MAJOR TIN, WHO PURSUED A PARTY OF GEURILLAS SOME DISTANCE FROM THE VILLAGE. TIN AND HIS FORCE WERE SURROUNDED FOR TWO DAYS BEFORE THE GEURILLAS DISPERSED. TIN RETURNED TO THE VILLAGE TO FIND IT ABANDONED AND MUCH OF THE POPULACE SLAUGHTERED AND MUTILATED. THE EIGHT LIVING AID WORKERS AND THEIR THAI DRIVERS WERE ALSO KILLED. THE SUPPLIES WERE NOT TO BE SEEN. TIN CONTACTED THE MILITARY WHO PROVIDED A RELIEF FORCE ALLOWING THE RETURN OF THE BODIES OF THE FOREIGN NATIONALS. THE ADMINISTRATION GREATLY REGRETS THE LOSS OF LIFE INCURRED DURING THIS HUMANITARIAN MISSION. HOWEVER WE ARE IN A STATE OF CIVIL WAR WITH ALL SEPARATIST TRIBES AND THIS INCIDENT REINFORCES OUR RESOLVE TO RID THE COUNTRY OF THESE INSURGENTS BY ANY MEANS. OUR SYMPATHIES GO THE FAMILIES OF.....

M stopped reading the report, flicking to the transcript from the Malay Division.

439 TRAVELED TO BURMA ON 26 DECEMBER. THERE WAS NO CONTACT FROM HIM. HIS BODY, THAT OF THE 7 OTHER LIVING AID WORKERS AND THE 5 THAI DRIVERS WERE RETURNED BY THE BURMESE ARMY TO THE THAI BORDER, WHERE THE AUTHORITIES MADE ARRANGEMENTS FOR THEIR TRANSPORTATION TO BANGKOK. THE L.A.F. REPRESENTATIVE WHO IDENTIFIED THE BODIES TALKED OF THEIR MUTILATION, INCLUDING BEHEADING. DURING POSTMORTEM, REFERENCE WAS MADE TO THE EXCESSIVE BLISTERING OF THE SKIN, ESPECIALLY AROUND THE FACE AND HANDS. THERE WAS ALSO EVIDENCE OF THROAT BURNS AND LUNG INFECTIONS. THE EXAMINER MADE REFERENCE TO THE EFFECTS OF PULMONARY AGENTS SUCH AS CHLORINE AND PHOSGENE BUT WOULD NOT DRAW ANY FIRM CONCLUSIONS. THE DEATHS AND CIRCUMSTANCES SURROUNDING THEM ARE SUSPICIOUS. THE EVIDENCE FOR A DELIBERATE ASSASSINATION IS SLIM, BUT CANNOT BE RULED OUT. ARRANGEMENTS ARE BEING MADE BETWEEN LIVING AID AND THE THAI AUTHORITIES FOR THE TRANSPORTATION OF 439S BODY TO THE UK.

M buzzed for fresh coffee and, after a few minutes, her secretary appeared and swapped the empty perspex jug for a steaming full one. M continued to read and seemed not to notice the disturbance.

APPENDIX 5 – SUSPECTED PULMONARY AGENTS (BURMA)

MODERN CHEMICAL WEAPONS TAKE THREE BASIC FORMS: NERVE AGENTS, BLISTER AGENTS AND PULONARY AGENTS. PULONARIES ARE THE MOST COMMON BEING THE EASIEST TO PRODUCE.

PULMONARIES ARE CHOKING AGENTS DESIGNED TO PREVENT BREATHING BY CAUSING A BUILD UP OF FLUID IN THE LUNGS LEADING TO SUFFOCATION. EXPOSURE TO THE SKIN IS CORROSIVE, RESULTING IN SEVERE BURNS. EXPOSURE TO THE EYES RESULTS IN BLURRED VISION AND EVENTUAL BLINDNESS. INHALATION CAUSES THROAT BURNS, VOMITING, CHEST PAINS AND HEADACHES. EVENTUALLY THE VICTIM WILL SUFFER RESPIRATORY OR CIRCULATORY FAILURE.

COMMON ELEMENTS OR COMPOUNDS USED ARE CHLORINE, CHLOROPICRIN, DIPHOSGENE AND PHOSGENE. THE LATTER OF THESE IS THE MOST DANGEROUS.

PHOSGENE IS COLOURLESS AT ROOM TEMPERATURE, BUT HAS A VAPOUR DENSITY OF 3.5 TIMES AIR, ALLOWING IT TO REMAIN LOW-LYING FOR LONG PERIODS OF TIME. IF CONTAMINATED, THOSE AFFECTED WILL SUFFER FROM MASSIVE PULMONARY EDEMA, WITH MAXIMUM SYMPTOMS REACHED IN 12 OR SO HOURS. DEATH USUALLY FOLLOWS IN 24 – 36 HOURS.

COMMON PHOSGENES ARE SULPHUR MUSTARD GAS (HD, H, HT, HL, AND HQ) AND NITROGEN MUSTARD GAS (HN1, HN2, HN3).

THE BURMESE GOVERNMENT DENY THEY POSSESS ANY CHEMICAL WEAPONS, BUT REPORTS SUBMITTED BY ORGANISATIONS SUCH AS THE UNITED NATIONS AND CAMPAIGN FOR HUMAN RIGHTS SUGGEST OTHERWISE. 439 REPORTED THE LIKELY EFFECTS OF CONTAMINATION ON THE KAREN POPULATION. THIS IS PARTLY RATIFIED BY INDEPENDENT SOURCES WHO HAVE WITNESSED THE ATTITUDES OF MILD EXPOSURE FROM THOSE WHO RE-ENTER AFFECTED REGIONS. SYMPTONS RANGE FROM HEADACHES, LUNG IRRITAION AND BLISTERS TO SEVERE DIARRHOEA AND THE COUGHING UP OF BLOOD.

THE CLOSED BORDERS OF THE COUNTRY SUGGEST THAT THESE WEAPONS ARE NOT IMPORTED, ALTHOUGH THERE IS CURRENTLY NO KNOWN LOCATION FOR THE MANUFACTURE AND DISTRIBUTION OF THESE WEAPONS.

THE UNITED NATIONS LISTS BURMA AS ONE OF THE TEN COUNTRIES MOST LIKELY BUT UNCONFIRMED AS MAKING AND USING PHOSGENES.

M turned the page. Tanner had included a three page summary, but she passed it over in favour of the page marked POTENTIAL ACTION.

REPLY TO THE MESSAGE USING THE CODED TELEX SYSTEM AND ARRANGE (IF REQUESTED) A DEAD DROP. NO DIRECT CONTACT TO BE MADE WITH RECIPIANT OF THE MESSAGE. PUBLIC LOCATION MOST LIKELY. THE SERVICE HAS A GOOD RAPPORT WITH THE MARRIOTT HOTEL AND CAN ARRANGE A RENDEZVOUS THERE OR CLOSE BY. THE OPERATION SHOULD BE SWIFT AND LOW KEY. A STATION AGENT FROM THE MALAY DIVISION SHOULD BE ASSIGNED THE RECOVERY. THE ARTICLES USEFULNESS CAN THEN BE ASSESSED AND SHIPPED ACCORDINGLY. THE PROTECTION OF THE CONTACT MUST REMAIN PROMINENT.

M closed the document and placed it on her desk. She looked out the window towards Westminster Palace. The big iron hands on the white clock face of Big Ben were easing towards three o'clock. It was already beginning to darken, another short grey day. She turned the matter over in her head. Certainly 439's death was unfortunate, suspicious and, quite possibly, an elaborate murder, but Tanner was fishing for something that wasn't there. He didn't even know who sent the message. Did Bachman prime his girlfriend for this eventuality? Did she change jobs for her own safety? Surely the M.I.S. wouldn't be following this girl to Singapore? But if they had, thought M, she's been found out and wants to get rid of something that will endanger her. Or maybe she's in danger already.

M called Tanner back to the office and he was there in five minutes. She didn't mince her words. "There's nothing at stake here, Tanner."

She paused deliberately for effect. Tanner waited, he'd watched this very routine several times, usually when M talked action with a government minister. Suddenly she was curt, authoritive. "Yet. Reply back to whoever sent this, see if we can get them to open up a bit and tell us what they've got or what they want. I can't be risking anyone on a whim."

"Of course, Ma'am," Tanner was quite pleased, but tried not to show it. "If we do put this into action, who can we send from Malaya?"

"Let's get the intel first, Tanner," replied M, "If it's worth going after I'll want it done properly." Another pause, shorter this time. "Isn't 007 in Australia at the moment?"

"Yes, Ma'am. I understand he's on vacation in Cairns."

"Cancel it – if you have to," said M gruffly, "If this girl is in any danger and the opposition think she's contacted us, they won't be watching flight arrivals from Down Under. 007 can sneak in unnoticed."

********************

James Bond watched the slim back of the young blonde stewardess retreat up the first class aisle. He smiled cheekily to himself. The flirtation he had carried on with Eve was finally bearing fruit and they had exchanged numbers, in case she ever had a stop over in London, which was quite likely. Bond wasn't fond of Australian girls, finding their accent too strong, but she was as demure as they come and very pretty with a wide genuine smile.

Bond sipped his sixth champagne cobbler. Eve had shown a remarkable capacity to learn the art of mixing a good cocktail. This was her best effort yet. Bond settled back into his big, deep seat. He'd eaten, drunk, read the Brisbane Courier-Mail and listened to jazz on the headphones. Now, his final drink of the flight to hand, he reflected on this minor sortie.

The operation didn't sound like a job for an agent of Bond's calibre. Indeed, Bond wasn't even aware the service still did "dead drops." As he told M, they went out of fashion after the Cold War ended and the internet revolution took off. Bond had never performed a dead drop during his whole career and didn't see why he had to start now. He didn't like the set up either. No description of the girl. No idea what she was handing over. Bond was also unhappy over the choice of venue. The service was well known for conducting business at the Marriott, including, he recalled, a botched defection of a Chinese scientist. The scientist had ended up recaptured by his own people and returned to Beijing to face trial and incarceration. He was never heard of again. Bond didn't want a similar fate to befall Lamai Sun Thorn. Despite these reasonable objections, M insisted Bond was the right man for the task.

Mostly though, Bond was annoyed at having to cut short his vacation on the Great Barrier Reef. He had been planning the trip for months. Douglas Donovan had been one of his best friends in the service. A double "O" like Bond, he'd been forced to retire after his left lung was shattered by three bullets in Morocco. His brother already lived in Queensland, operating a pleasure boat service across the reef, so Dougie had taken his disability compensation and joined him, setting up his own business, which he called Sail & Swim.

It had been a perfect week. Bond had flown out just before New Year and, once the jet lag had passed, Dougie took ample pleasure in showing him the delights of Cairns. There were inexpensive restaurants, rowdy drinking bars, the opulent casino and, Dougie's speciality, the strip clubs. They got drunk at night and, while they recovered during the day, the two of them took a small motor launch out to the reef. They sunbathed and snorkelled. Once the alcohol was out of their system, they scuba dived the twenty feet down, exploring the coral beds and the glorious aquatic wildlife. Then they drank some more and reminisced. Bond hadn't been so relaxed in years. Dougie looked refreshed and, despite the gammy shoulder, he seemed to be fitter and more spirited than Bond could ever remember him. Silently, he had a tinge of jealousy for the easy going lifestyle his pal had provided for himself. Half way through the sixth day, Dougie encouraged Bond to follow in his footsteps.

"Look at me, James! I'm fit again. Like a fiddle. I love what I do out here. It's almost as good as sex. Well, maybe not that good, but pretty darn close, I reckon. You've still got some youth on your side and you're not short of talents – hunting, shooting, fishing, swimming. You'd go down a storm with the ladies here too, mate. You and me, James. We'd set all the pulses racing in North Queensland. Think about it. Sun, sea and sheilas."

"And horrific accents," mocked Bond, "Come on, Doug, you know my heart's set on that cottage in the country."

Dougie wouldn't let the subject rest until Bond impolitely told him to shove it up his rear end. Later, over a steak dinner, Bond noticed Dougie had sat facing the entrance to the restaurant, as he had every time they went out.

"It doesn't leave you does it, Doug?" he asked.

"What doesn't?"

"The old feelings, the habits, the wariness that's drilled into us," mused Bond. "What's it like to never know you're safe, Doug? Even after being out here for six years, you're still expecting someone to come for you."

"Every day, James. There are people out there who'll want me dead and they haven't died yet," Dougie said with an almost apologetic laugh, "Hell, I miss the thrill too, buddy. I never believed it, but I actually miss pulling that trigger. I always thought I'd be glad not to have that responsibility, but once you've tasted that power it's hard to shake it off. There are days when all I think about is the scrapes I got into and how I got out of them. Sometimes they're nightmares and I wake up in a sweat, like the old days. Other times they're like an adventure and I never want it to end. Sailing and swimming all day, drinking and fucking all night – it just isn't a substitute."

Dougie paused, his eyes closed and he took a deep breath. When he opened them Bond could see the eyes were wet. Dougie dabbed them with his napkin. "Christ, I wish I hadn't walked out of that restaurant in Rabat. They told me not to. I just didn't believe them. My first big mistake and it finishes me."

Bond nodded in sympathy. The memory was painful for Dougie. It had been a long convalescence for him. Bond had visited him several times and been alarmed by the physical and mental breakdown the man was suffering. His life had almost been torn from him, his career was finished and, as often happened in these situations, there was little compassion from the suits in charge. Bond silently wondered how long it would be before a stray bullet disabled him, before they read him the retirement notice.

"You're better off out of it, Doug," stated Bond blankly, "Believe you me, the world is getting uglier by the year."

This seemed to close the matter and the two old friends set about downing big vodka chasers in O'Brien's and chasing the local ladies.

Bond had woken the next morning, as he had on two of the previous five, with a naked woman lying next to him. Once again, he squinted in the morning sunlight, focussing his tired eyes on the creature next to him, and wished they always looked as good the morning after as they did the night before. Bond recalled this one was high on enthusiasm and very noisy. He idly lifted the sheet to remind himself of her curvy, slightly careworn body. She wasn't a young woman, but she had fine assets where it counted. He struggled to remember her name.

Bond slipped out of bed and walked naked to the bathroom where he took a long revitalising shower and, for once, decided not to shave. Wearing a towel he entered the kitchen and blended together pineapples, mangos and oranges, making two big glasses of smooth juice. He could hear that Dougie was awake and was expending more energy with his own eager partner. Bond returned to the bedroom and gave the dozing girl a playful slap on the backside.

"Come on, petal, time to get up."

She moaned softly and yawned. "Oh, sweetie, not yet. I'm too tired. You wore me out, you tiger."

"No," said Bond firmly, "Move your ass. It's Sunday and I go to church on Sundays."

This seemed to stir the girl a little and she half sat up. "Church?" she repeated, incredulous, "You're fucking joking, right?"

"No, I'm deadly serious," Bond handed her the glass of fresh juice. "You want to come?"

The girl most certainly did not and while Bond dressed, she took her own shower. She too could hear the sounds from the next bedroom. Her friend was clearly occupied. She paused by the door as if to knock and then, with an indifferent shrug, changed her mind.

She and Bond exchanged a few niceties and she stretched up to kiss him gently on the lips. "Thanks, babe. Any time you want a repeat performance, give me a call."

Bond waited until she had left the bungalow before returning to the bedroom to strip the bottom sheet from the bed. She'd written a number on the telephone pad. Bond looked at it. He still didn't remember her name. Casually he screwed up the paper into a ball and threw it into a waste bin. Finally he left the bungalow, not to go to church, but to stroll down to the beach, as he'd done every morning.

Cairns was a big town, not in terms of population, but in its acreage. Streets were wide, houses big, everything seemed to be spread out, ordered. It didn't offer much in the way of history and architecture. It was a holiday town. Bond enjoyed the sun on his skin as he ambled down Grove Street on his way to the sea front. He lit his first cigarette of the day, red Marlboros, his own special Morland's were finished, and sucked the tobacco deep into his lungs.

Bond mulled over Dougie's worries. Bond was rarely ill-at-ease. He never once considered the enemy would seek him for retribution when he was on his own time. It did not stop him being cautious, but he didn't spend time anticipating death. When working, yes; then Bond was alert and coiled like a tight spring, waiting for the moment when action took over from words. But never at home, never on holiday. Perhaps his relaxed attitude was the sign of a lucid acceptance of his fate or maybe he just didn't care enough about his life. It had often been suggested he didn't care enough about the lives of those around him.

Bond reached the rather muddy beach. It was already humid and clammy, he was glad of the ocean air to cool him. He sat down for several minutes, smoking another cigarette, enjoying the early morning breeze and the soft lap of the waves on the shore line. He wondered: could this be the good life for him? An easy, pampered retirement of great food, water sports and women, not necessarily in that order. He wasn't getting younger. A change of lifestyle might be what he needed, what the doctor never told him, but always implied.

When Bond returned to the bungalow, Dougie was alone and looking quite pleased with himself. Bond went to check his email while Dougie made eggs for breakfast. Bond's slightly sombre mood altered dramatically as soon as he filtered his inbox. There was a message from M. Bond closed the bedroom door and played the recorded message. M's instructions were clear. His vacation was over. He had to reply immediately, confirming his flight and arrival times. It had all been arranged without consulting him. He felt tense and a little sick. His mind wasn't ready for this. His body wasn't either, not after two weeks of the Christmas season and Dougie's infamous pub crawls.

His friend's smile vanished as soon as he saw Bond's attitude at the breakfast table. Bond explained what had happened and Dougie accepted it with bad grace and lots of swearing. Bond, more philosophically, chose to turn down another day on the reef in favour of an intense drying out session. Their final evening was one of mixed emotion and role reversal from the night before; Bond not wanting to abandon his holiday, wary of the mission ahead of him, and Dougie understanding why he had to go, sympathetic to his fears.

And now, with little else to do on board the plane, Bond was drinking again, slowly and methodically. If nothing else comes out of this mission, he considered, at least he'd have the number of the beautiful Eve.

*************************

Qantas Flight QF51 from Brisbane touched down at Singapore's Changi Airport a few minutes early. This beautiful airport was one of Bond's favourites, the perfect antidote to any sixteen hour journey. Routinely voted the world's best, Bond loved the open spaces, the multitude of scented green plants, the sedate lighting, the expensive drinks and the pampering suites, where a traveller can be massaged, washed and manicured by immaculate, attentive staff. The wait for his baggage was short and Bond was stamped through immigration with the merest of glances at his diplomatic passport. In the vacuous arrivals foyer a waist-coated porter hurried up to Bond, bowed his head and virtually demanded he take Bond's suitcase and find him a taxi. Bond followed him and the little man loyally beckoned towards a silver Mercedes which didn't appear to be on the taxi rank. The porter asked his destination. On hearing Bond say the Marriott his face blossomed into a smile of silent understanding. "Oh, you have nice stay there. Very good hotel."

It was already dark. Night time comes quickly this close to the equator, there is hardly any evening and daylight lasts a little over twelve hours. But it never goes cold and Bond gently perspired in the stifling heat. He'd visited Singapore several times and the humidity and unflinching temperature always surpassed his expectations. This evening it felt hotter than he'd ever known it. He was glad to settle into the air conditioned fridge of the taxi.

As the car gently eased its way onto the East Coast Parkway, Bond saw the first smatterings of rain drops on the windscreen. It was the tail end of the monsoon season and the suffocating humidity had been an advance warning of an impending deluge.

The rain storm lasted a little under two hours. Flashes of lightning cut the air, illuminating the rainfall, that shone like sheets of glass being held up to the sky. The roads became covered in a shallow river of water, overflowing the drains and coating the pavements. The journey to the city centre usually took about twenty minutes, but today it was double that as every car slowed down for safety; the long crawl up Orchard Road to Bond's hotel was even more unbearable today. This isn't a pleasant start, thought Bond. He sat disconsolate, staring out of the window, watching the pedestrians, umbrellas aloft, splashing about as they continued their daily business despite the torrential conditions. They knew it would soon be over and that the streets would dry and the people would come out again and enjoy the delights of their city. Bond knew it too, but weather like this never made him happy, it had all the hallmarks of a bad omen. He shook his head, clearing the cobwebs of superstition that hounded him: things like blackbirds, packing routines, New Year laundry and any thing with a '13' in it.

The Singapore Marriott is one of the most distinct buildings on Orchard Road. Sited on the corner of Scott's Road and next door to the famous Tang department store, the hotel's location is good enough, but the pagoda style tower that soars above it sets it apart from its surroundings. Bond ducked through the pouring rain and under the awnings of the hotel's Crossroads cafe, where he saw a scattering of anonymous middle-aged European men. Some were entertaining prostitutes and transvestites who, in a decades old tradition, still walked across the Chinese Cemetery to discreetly ply their trade. This was one of the less salubrious aspects of the hotel and had been implied on the airport porter's farewell grin. Bond passed through the cafe and into the grand reception hall, which was opulently decorated in white marble and gold leaf.

Bond approached the reception desk and checked in. The room was booked under Universal Exports and Bond offered his own passport, as he had no other with him. The clerk was most welcoming and the questions came fast and polite: had Mr Bond stayed before, would he be using the spa, would he require a non-smoking room, what was the purpose of his visit, could the hotel help with anything. Bond's replies were short and non-committal. The clerk turned to his female assistant and there was an exchange in Malay, which Bond, despite some limited knowledge, couldn't understand. With a little curtsey the girl hurried away to the concierge desk. The clerk turned back to Bond. "We have a package for you, Mr Bond. It arrived by special courier. Most unusual."

The girl returned with a cardboard wrapped package, about the size of a briefcase. She seemed to be struggling under its weight. Bond took it from her and slung it under his arm as if it were no heavier than a pillow. He said thank you and collected his key card. Bond took his own bags to his room on the sixteenth floor.

It was better than functional, with deep pile carpets that his shoes disappeared into and a huge square bed dominating the room. The decor was in shades of cream and brown that was neither objectionable nor pleasing to the eye. Floor to ceiling windows lined the far side offering Bond a grandstand view of the last of the thunderstorm. Like most visitors however, he appreciated the air conditioning best.

Bond stripped and showered, scrubbing off the grime from his journey, after which he ordered a plate of smoked salmon sandwiches from room service. Bond poured himself a glass of Evian water from the mini-bar, idly wondering how it was that French water followed you around the world, and opened his suitcase, removing only the clothes he expected to use during his stay. The remainder stayed neatly packed ready for a speedy exit.

Once room service had delivered his sandwiches, Bond ripped open the package the assistant had given him. It contained his attaché case. Courtesy of the Armoury Division, a double "O" would take one on every mission. Sometimes, like today, it wasn't always possible. In these instances the Quartermaster would extract the relevant weaponry and have the case couriered to where ever in the world an agent was assigned. He hadn't been told, but Bond had expected the case; it was a standard procedure. Inside was a shrink wrapped bundle of documents. Bond put these to one side and removed instead his Walther P99 revolver, several rounds of ammunition and a shoulder holster. He immediately sprung open the chamber, inspecting the barrel, the grip and the firing mechanism. Once satisfied he loaded an eight bullet cartridge into the gun and placed it inside the holster. Later, Bond would dress and practice drawing the loaded gun, ensuring the holster was comfortable under his armpit, that his jacket wasn't too tight and that the offending weapon was deftly hidden.

Bond chewed on one of the delicious sandwiches and unravelled the bundle of documents. There was a slim sealed bag which contained a wad of Singapore Dollars and his Master and Visa cards, both marked "Universal Exports Ltd Executive" but lacking Bond's name, although one of his eight different signatures was on the security stripe. The top document was headlined PROSPECTIVE ACTION IN SINGAPORE – REGARDING INTEL FROM OPERATIVE 439 (DECEASED). Some light reading for tonight then, thought Bond.

Also packed was a rather expensive looking black neck tie, one which came with a jewelled tie pin. Bond cast a rudimentary eye over the offensive article. It was a tiny camera, the lens disguised as the diamond inserted into the pin head. There was an activation wire the breadth of a cotton thread ending in a tiny squeeze button. Bond would need to insert this down the rear of the neck tie. Not a bad little contraption, considered Bond, if you like to fiddle with the bottom of your tie when you talked to people. These things never gave good results. Finally he checked the two thin stainless steel throwing knives were in place inside the lining of the case and that the small gas canister was primed, ensuring anyone who tried to access the case would be met with a blast of tear gas.

Satisfied, Bond set to reading the documents. After two hours and several cigarettes he was clear on his mission. The exchange was arranged for tomorrow night at nine. It would be done in Bar None, the nightclub in the basement of the hotel. The article for collection would be left in a tall cocktail glass behind one of the palm trees that lined the booths. Bond wouldn't know the girl, but she would know he was there. If possible Bond was to photograph her, just for the record.

Bond poured himself a big glass of whiskey, dropped in some ice and stood by the window of his room. The twinkling lights of the city stretched away from him. Singapore wasn't a big place. It was 240 square miles of teeming lives, five million of them, plus the tourists and businessmen who endlessly swarmed in and out every few days. Its blend of old and new was startling. Glimmering tall buildings, a sparkling metro and cavernous shopping centres rub shoulders with tea houses, twisting back alleys and street hawkers, the bright neon signs and the quiet manicured parks hide the seedy underbelly that still exists in some quarters, while the clean streets, the orderliness and the due deference to authority seemed only to reinforce the Confusion ideals of the past. Those contradictions were part of the city's charm. It was why the fruit trees on Orchard Road became surrounded with shopping malls, why Koi carp swam unmolested in the water features of public parks and why the Bukit nature reserve survived for over one hundred years nestled next to an expanding modern city. And Lamai Sun Thorn was out there in this heady mixture, possibly frightened, possibly in danger. Yet Bond didn't understand why.

He took a hefty swig at the drink. It wasn't his concern, he told himself. He wasn't to worry; someone else would do that for him. He had his orders. He was here. It was time to do carry them out, to do what he did best, to be wary, to be drilled and efficient, if necessary to pull the trigger, to exercise his own power over man. Bond went to bed and had a restless night's sleep.

*************************

Bond awoke early. The sun wasn't even up yet. He contacted the concierge office and obtained the address and telephone number for Thai Airways. As an afterthought he asked if the pool terrace was open and was answered yes. Bond slipped into his trunks and pulled on a huge luxurious bath robe. He'd done a lot of recreational swimming on the Barrier Reef, but also a lot of recreational drinking. Although he wasn't out of shape, now he was back on the firm's time, Bond experienced a pang of guilt about his over indulgences. Sportsmen and women who take an extended break from their training routine probably had similar feelings. One morning dip wouldn't change the effects of the past week, but it would ease his conscience. Bond's swim consisted of completing thirty punishingly fast lengths of alternate breast stroke and front crawl, before he relaxed with a few minutes treading water on his back, watching the first rays of sunlight peer between the high rise buildings which surrounded the hotel. Penance done, Bond ordered breakfast and allowed the morning heat to dry him. Then he wrapped himself back up in the bath robe and ate tropical fruits and yoghurt followed by toast and jam with strong black coffee. He staved off the craving for tobacco and returned to his room to dress.

At nine sharp he used his mobile phone to contact the British High Commission. It was a courtesy call more than anything. The service didn't have a Station in Singapore any longer. Instead there was a roaming Division that covered all of the Malay Peninsula, based nominally in Bangkok. Government cutbacks, M had said, but she'd made the best of a bad job and accepted it gracelessly. After passing through the usual security channels, Bond spoke to a man called Allenbury, a secretary to the Commissioner. He seemed to be aware of Bond's purpose already and offered to give any assistance if things got – in his words – nasty. Bond offered the missive sentence that he hoped things wouldn't get disagreeable. Allenbury seemed the cheerful and down-to-earth sort that was unusual in diplomatic circles.

Having got this call out of the way, Bond, dressed in grey cotton slacks and a light blue collarless open necked shirt, left the hotel and took the short walk to Orchard MRT station. Singapore's Mass Rapid Transit system is the envy of most modern cities, a subway service that is smooth, fast and near silent. In a matter of minutes the train had whisked him the six stops to Raffles Place, where Bond disembarked and changed to the East West Line, travelling one stop to Tanjong Pagar.

Bond took the short stroll around the corner that he knew so well and passed through the anonymous grey gates of the Seng Wong Beo Temple. He removed his shoes, leaving them with the other pairs in the elaborately gilded porch way. Bond entered the quiet, pious interior and immediately the rich pungent smell of incense made his nostrils twitch. It was cool and calm, a sanctuary from the hectic life outside. There was no noise aside from the gentle hum of chanting. A small huddle of devout Taoists knelt before the altar piece, dedicated to the Chinese City God. Bond wasn't a religious man, but he found the peacefulness reassuring. There were no seats, so Bond found an embroidered cushion, seemingly abandoned to one side, and sat on it, legs out front and his elbows on his knees with his hands clasped lightly together. He closed his eyes and began taking deep, relaxing breaths, as if tasting the tranquillity. He didn't know how long he sat. The temple elders gave him some inquisitive looks, but no-one disturbed him. Bond was thinking back to a time many years ago, when he'd been an impulsive and impudent young naval officer.

It had happened on Bond's first trip to Singapore. While on a boisterous shore leave, one of Bond's ratings had been involved in a horrific motorcycle accident and, in addition to the sailor, a young unmarried native couple had died. Bond had witnessed the crash; it was his first sight of death. His Captain had insisted on some bridge building in the community and Bond reluctantly attended the funerals, where he had none the less acquitted himself so ably, he received an invite to the couples' ghost marriage. The ceremony had taken place in this temple and the memory of that strange occasion lingered with him. The bereaved families were, to Bond's surprise, as cheerful as if this was a real wedding. They had made little paper presents for their loved ones, who were also represented by papier-mâché dolls. A temple medium performed the nuptials which ended in the burning of the presents and effigies. Bond had left with the belief that every moment of life was for living, with no regrets; there was no hope in an after life, no one to love and marry; it was all here and now for the living. He only had one life, he reminded himself, and the difference between his heaven and hell was the earth.

Bond left the Temple and strolled down Cecil Street, which bordered Chinatown. Bond was looking for number 100, a squat tower mischievously called The Globe. The plaque behind the reception desk said Thai Airways International was on the second floor. Bond took the elevator. Upstairs he found a big black desk with a pretty girl sitting behind it, who assuming Bond spoke English, smiled and said cheerily: "Yes, can I help you?"

Bond looked to the left and right, two pairs of clear double doors led into two open plan offices. "Possibly, I was hoping to speak to Miss Sun Thorn."

"Your name?"

"Stephen Bachman."

"Ah. One moment."

The girl was wearing a tiny headset and without a pause she dialled a number and spoke swiftly into it. Bond wasn't an expert in Thai, but he picked up the word for "Englishman". The conversation ended with a cheerful "Can!" and the girl smiled up at him. "She says you may leave a message."

"Certainly." Bond asked for a paper and pen and wrote on it "Call me soon" followed by his mobile phone number. After a moments consideration he scribbled "You ain't seen nothing yet." Bond folder the paper and handed it back. The girl didn't move. "Could you give it to her?" he prompted, "Now."

Surprised, the girl stood up from her desk and passed through the left hand set of doors. Bond didn't wait and took the elevator downstairs and exited the building. He crossed the street and loitered outside a police station. Bond answered his phone after the second ring. "Is that Soonie?"

The light voice quivered in reply. "Yes."

"I'm from London. I'm here to help you today. You're a sensible girl. You were wise not to meet me."

"Yes. I was told not to."

"Good. If you had I would be walking away," Bond looked up at the windows of The Globe, almost expecting the girl to be watching him. If she was he didn't see her. "Tonight," he ordered simply, "Don't be late."

He ended the call and without a glance around him, set off down the street. He hailed a taxi and asked to be taken to Raffles. It was time for an early lunch.

Had Bond taken a second glance, he may have noticed the man in an incongruous dark suit standing outside the Comoros Building, exactly as he or one of his partners had done for the past two weeks. The man was used to the heat and he didn't sweat. His eyes were shielded by a pair of IC-Berlin sunglasses he had bought at the airport. He had spoken to his colleagues as soon as Bond had entered The Globe. The discussion was urgent and the man started to give a description of the stranger he had just observed. When Bond had reappeared only a few minutes later, he was still on his mobile, requesting assistance, the description having been confirmed. Luckily, the stranger had paused for a minute or two outside the building, a pause long enough for the assistant to arrive on his motorbike. The man quoted the Smartcab registration number and its journey direction. A few seconds later he saw his colleague weave across the traffic from Cross Street. Good; now he knew Bond's activities would be discreetly monitored.

*************************

The Raffles Hotel isn't the only great hotel in Singapore. The Fullerton, the Shangri La, the Duxton and the ultra-historic Goodwood Park are all fine hotels, each one offering a luxurious stay amid new or traditional splendour. Bond was certain there were more five star hotels in Singapore than in any other city in the world. They were certainly closer together. And, despite its status as a clichéd institution, Raffles was still the finest and grandest of them all. It is regal, genteel and atmospheric; to sit in any of its bars, to walk through the lobby or take tea in the Tiffin Room was to take a step back to a time of elegance and grace, when just to mention the Raffles Hotel would conjure images of oriental luxury. Bond had never stayed in the hotel, but he was familiar with its bars and restaurants, choosing to drink and eat here when money allowed. Contrary to popular belief, Sir Stanford Raffles has nothing to do with the place; the Sarkies Brothers borrowed his name for their most famous colonial hotel. It made Bond chuckle to think the first Governor of the island colony was more famous as a hotel than as the "Founder of Singapore." He was dead long before the original ten room bungalow was constructed. Now the gorgeous colonnaded building was restored and expanded, modernised and beautified, yet it still retained an air of the exotic east.

Bond could have taken a drink outside, but instead he chose to visit the Long Bar, one of the most famous drinking establishments in the world. Usually you need a ticket, a nod to the bar's tourist legacy, but Bond was known to many of the bar tending staff, and he was ushered through without a word or any hint of surprise at his long absence. Bond exchanged pleasantries as he took a seat in the wood panelled room and ordered a vodka martini, requesting Polish vodka, shaken with a sliver of lemon peel. It would have been easy to order a Singapore Sling, one of the world's great cocktails, but Bond found that combination of cherry liqueur, gin and lime a trifle overpowering, more like cough mixture than a cocktail. His drink came in a traditional 8oz v-shaped glass and the intense flavours fizzed across his tongue, released by the bubbles as the mixture was shaken. It was a martini as good as Bond had remembered.

The bar was almost empty, the comfortable wicker chairs waiting expectantly for the lunchtime drinkers, the fans turning gently in the ceiling and the floor not yet covered by the monkey nut shells. Bond ordered a plate of tempura and picked up a discarded copy of the Straits Times. After three hours, three martinis and ten cigarettes, Bond had read his paper and eaten two servings of tempura with chilli sauce. He'd had to go outside to smoke due to another joyless smoking ban. Meanwhile an assortment of businessmen, curious tourists and hardened drinkers came in, took their seats, drank, ate and moved on, to be replaced by another set of equally captivated punters. Bond paid and, after saying his farewells, left this haven of a bygone era and re-entered the modern world.

Back at the Marriott, Bond rested for three hours, picturing the time in his mind so his body awoke just before the alarm in his mobile pierced his semi-conscious mind. Bond went to one of the hotel's twenty four hour eateries for his dinner. He didn't care which one, this wasn't a meal to enjoy, more of a necessity. He ate a chicken breast with salad. He didn't drink, choosing sparkling water. Bond returned to his room and took a long shower, hot followed by cold, so cold it scolded. Refreshed, he shaved and sprayed a touch of Paul Smith cologne on his cheeks. Wearing a clean bath robe, he packed his bag with everything he didn't require. His Singapore Airways flight was at 9.00am and Bond anticipated checking out of the hotel that evening as soon as this affair was concluded. He would spend the remaining hours in the exclusive passenger clubs at Changi airport.

Carefully he checked over his Walther P99, exactly as he had the previous night. Bond dressed and finally slipped on his shoulder holster. It felt loose and he tightened the straps, before trying two or three practise draws in front of the mirror, like little boys play at cowboys. Satisfied, he checked the time. Bond didn't want to enter the club just before the appointed time; a public dead drop should look natural. He thought it would take about an hour for an average single European male to get bored by the expensive drinks and the lack of hospitable female company. Bond would give it an hour and a quarter before making an exit. That gave him fifteen minutes to reach the club. There was just time for a smoke. Bond drew the tobacco deep into his lungs, composing himself, letting the familiarity of his habit calm his nerves.

Bar None wasn't anything special, Bond realised. Firstly it was established in the basement of a hotel, which is usually a recipe for hookers and their hangers on. Secondly, and a consequence of the first problem, it had obnoxious door staff who seemed hell bent on admitting no body into the club. Lastly, it had just seen better days. If Bond didn't like it already, he hated it from the moment he stepped down the stairs into the glass panelled, heavily upholstered interior. If it wasn't red leather, don't sit on it, screamed the decor. The polished wood floor was designed for dancing, not walking, and there wasn't much of either at the moment. A lonely looking stage was set to one side, an assortment of instruments waiting for their musicians. The bar itself snaked around the back and one side of the floor space. All the relevant bottles were on display, but the youthfulness of the bar staff gave Bond little comfort. There was an awful noise coming from the loud speakers. It took Bond a few moments to realise it was Indonesian hip-hop music. The realisation didn't help his disenchantment. The whole place was bathed in a red tinged half light and Bond felt the proprietor was trying to hide more shortcomings. He didn't remark on the fingerprints on his glass of ABC stout.

The place was half empty and most of those there were locals. The tourists didn't seem to come here, though Bond spotted one or two looking slightly bemused by the place the guide books called "one of the must-see nightspots on Orchard Road." Perhaps the guide books needed a little updating.

Bond leant backwards against the bar, one hand cocked over his trouser belt. This allowed him to touch the camera button, which he had managed to fix onto his belt by ensuring the neck tie was a little loose and hung past his waist. The slim data pack slipped inside his wallet and received up to ninety nine images. It still wasn't easy to look natural and he used it out of duty. Bond surveyed the room three times, moving from place to place, watching different tables and smiling cordially at each small gathering, all the time taking the minute images which later on the Armoury would blow up in size. Hopefully Lamai Sun Thorn would be among the faces. Bond thought it a dumb exercise. The girl wasn't of any further use to the service, her lover had died and she was merely disposing of something at his request. Bond read it how Tanner had described it; he just didn't understand why 439 would have entrusted her with something of value. All this cloak-and-dagger stuff was yesterday's world. Everything was supposed to be more transparent now, more open. Sometimes he felt his role as a double "O" was becoming less relevant, in which case so was the role of the service itself, being dominated by the latest technology, gadgets and computers and the forecasters, efficiency experts and geeks that used them, groups of people as impersonal as the equipment they introduced.

It was beginning to get busy and some of the younger crowd were quite boisterous. Bond returned to the bar, nursing his way to the bottom of his drink. There were fourteen booths surrounding the walls in clusters of three or four. The booths were overwhelmed with indoor palms, the big leathery leaves hanging across the ceiling lights, darkening the tables and providing some intimacy for the more romantic couples. Bond hadn't spotted anyone who looked remotely like a girl he was looking for. Bond didn't expect her to be alone. He was looking for clutches of young women, probably all in their early twenties, fairly casual, and, most likely, all of Thai or Malaysian descent. There were several groups of this ilk, but as time passed, Bond crossed each one off his list. One party left the club early, another bumped into a gang of men with whom they had arranged to meet, a third group also exited and a fourth split up with a rash of giggles and kisses.

Bond walked the floor again. This time he was slower and more careful, not taking indiscriminate photos, but assessing the people he passed. Two or three girls seemed to be possible candidates, as they were sitting in the booths. One was with a respectable businessman. She had her hair cut short into a bob and wore a pastel coloured blouse with a small black skirt. As Bond watched the man flirted with her, his hand reaching under the table to stroke her thigh. Not such a respectable businessman, then, and not his girl either.

Another was a flighty young thing, drinking a fair bit, but in control of herself. She was with a large group of men and being the only girl, seemed to be in constant demand. Bond excluded her because he she drew too much attention to herself. There was also a trio of quiet girls, who appeared out of place and distracted. Every so often one of them would get up and visit the toilet or go to the bar. Two of the girls were rather plain, but the third, the smallest of the three, had a touch of the exotic about her. She had long straight hair, surrounding an unfussy, glowing face illuminated by a smile that rarely left her lips. Unlike her friends she wore a pair of comfortable cotton trousers. Once or twice, Bond caught her looking in his direction, but he couldn't tell if it was out of curiosity, design or accident. She was worth keeping an eye on, for more than one reason.

Bond retreated back to the bar and ordered a second ABC. The music was louder now and there was an announcement that Energy, the house band, would be playing tonight from nine o'clock. Bond casually checked his watch. Fifteen minutes. This girl was more intelligent than he had expected. The distraction caused by the appearance of Energy would be a perfect cover for the drop. With luck he would have enough time to walk the booths and spot the cocktail glass.

While Bond waited, choosing to move his way slowly back towards the first of the booths, he saw the arrival of another girl, this one alone. She had an athletic body. Her skin was quite dark and although she had some Malay blood, she appeared to be more Indian. She wore a deep blue wrap-around mini dress, held together by a rainbow coloured belt that clung to her hips. There must have been buttons, but Bond couldn't see any. Without looking at her stiletto clad feet, she trod down the stairs in a practised, careful manner, so as not to topple over. Her long toned legs led up to a tantalisingly pert backside, that was almost exposed, so short was her attire. The deep open V created by the wrap-around exposed her cleavage, although her breasts were disappointingly small, almost adolescent, and didn't require the support of a brassiere. None the less their shape was visible under the thin material of the dress and her hard nipples poked invitingly through the fabric. Underneath the shock of unkempt black hair which fell about her shoulders, she had a calm, expressionless face, her lips pursed together in what Bond took to be disapproval. Despite this she had a magnetism about her which made people stare. Bond wondered what would happen when she smiled at something she liked.

The girl paused on the bottom step of the staircase and cast her eyes around the bar. Bond took the opportunity to reel off several photographs. The girl moved like a catwalk model through the crowd to the far side of the bar, her hips swaying and the hem of the dress fluttering about her, offering a tantalising glimpse of a naked derriere and the outline of a tiny thong. She ordered a drink and paid with money from a clutch bag that matched the colour of her dress. Bond tore his eyes away from her and once again browsed the melee in front of him. From the corner of his vision, he saw the new girl moving along the bar, watching as if she too was looking for someone. Gradually the girl moved closer to Bond, sipping at her drink, until she was standing next to him. They exchanged smiles, but not a word. Bond had been right; her face lit up with the smile, warming the cool exterior, changing her demeanour for a second. It was a beautiful second. As she walked by he smelled jasmine and yellow citrus. Bond noticed she was drinking vodka and ice from a tall straight cocktail tumbler.

He stopped looking around Bar None. Suddenly, no one else interested him. This had to be Lamai Sun Thorn. Perhaps she had seen Bond outside The Globe building. Perhaps she was daring to make the closest of contacts. Bond held himself back from following her. It was almost nine. There was no point in pursuit, the instructions forbade it.

Bond took another glance around the room. Was anybody watching him? Was any one of a hundred or more women making a sudden movement? Which booths were becoming empty? There was a sudden commotion at the far end of the bar as four youths climbed onto the stage and took to their instruments. One of them took up position behind a pair of turntables and started to spin record discs, his hand automatically pressing one half of a pair of headphones to his ear. People started to crush forward. The announcement came over the loudspeakers, in English: "Ladies and gentlemen, it's time for the best house band in Singapore – bar none! En-er-gy!"

Bond wasn't sure that he understood the meaning of the word "house" in this context. The music was loud, pumping disco beats and thrashing guitars. The lead singer started chanting and rapping. The audience started to jump, not dance, to the sound of the beat.

Bond had been distracted. It was past nine o'clock. He put down his own drink and made his move. The first booth was empty and there was nothing behind the palm tree. The second was equally empty, except for the drinks and coats and bags of its occupiers, now jumping at the front. Out of the corner of his eye, Bond saw the swish of a dark blue skirt; the girl was on the move. Quickly he peered into the next booth, offering a smile to the businessman and his floozy. No glass here. Next one, no glass. Bond took the short walk to the second batch of booths. Nothing. Nothing. People and nothing. And then it was there. Bond saw it, a long tumbler, just like the one the girl in blue had held. He saw it perched in the decorative pebbles, leaning against the trunk of the palm tree. There was a group of people in the booth and some of their acquaintances outside. They were shouting at each other, enjoying the start of the show, and the boys were begging the girls to dance. Bond made a few curt excuses and barged his way past them, snatching at the glass as he went. He upended it and something light fell into his palm.

Bond placed the empty glass on a table, any table, and headed towards the exit. He turned the article over in his hand. It wasn't what he was expecting. It was a fold-over business card for a floating restaurant and club called The Chrysanthemum and The Sword. The club's elaborate logo decorated the front, a picture of the flower being cut at the stem by a samurai sword. On the back was a picture of a pleasure boat and its address, Fullerton Quay. Bond turned it over. Written inside in black ink was the message: "9.30pm. Don't be late."

The bitch. What the hell was this all about? Bond had a good mind not to bother going. He wasn't in the mood for playing silly games. And if he did maybe he'd take that beautiful ass and give it a good spanking. Did the stupid girl think she knew better than Bond, a trained double "O"? Was she getting back at him for surprising her this morning? Had Bachman told her to act like this? Perhaps that was how he behaved and the girl had witnessed it too often; he hadn't suffered much truck with authority.

At the foot of the stairs, Bond took a quick look back towards the bar. There was no sign of the blue dress. Where the hell was she now? She must have slipped past him while he checked the booths. Damn it! Annoyed, Bond slipped the card into his pocket and ascended the stairs two at a time.

He didn't alter pace as he walked out onto Orchard Road. The girl was no where to be seen. Bond had twenty minutes and he took the MRT, going just four stops. He wasn't familiar with the address, but understood it was a new development behind One Fullerton, a modern appendage to the original luxury hotel, which overlooked the bay. Bond took the short walk to Fullerton Square and descended the steps to the quayside. A series of bustling and lively restaurants and bars lined the waterfront. There was a wide esplanade with some outside tables, but mostly this seemed an excuse for promenading. Across the bay to the north Bond could see the high rise buildings that lined Raffles Avenue and the bright spread of lights from the Chinese fair in the Marina Park.

The elaborately decorated boat was at the far end of the quay, moored permanently next to some expensive yachts. Bond could already hear Western pop music blaring out from the top deck. The outside seemed full of people, enjoying the hot, dry night. Inside, Bond hoped it was cool for, despite wearing his lightest suit and tie, the stifling heat made the sweat gather on his forehead and between his shoulder blades. His palms were clammy. Deliberately, Bond slowed. If the girl was in any genuine danger, it wouldn't do to go scaring her. Bond took a few deep breaths and walked up the gang plank, the bouncers paying him scant attention.

First, Bond perused the crush on the upper deck, checking carefully each area, scanning the faces and the clothes, looking for the girl's distinctive hair, dress and legs. He didn't see her aft, so he went forward. There was a splash of blue on someone, but as Bond eased through the throng, he realised it was a girl's blouse, not a dress. Having no success outside, Bond went downstairs into the lounge area. It was still warm, the sides of the lounge being open to the air, making smoking permissible. The wispy pall of smoke reduced the already minimal lighting that only came from the lanterns hung above each table. Bond moved among the tables, looking casually at their occupants. The hopelessness of the situation made him seethe. Other than the girl, Bond didn't know what he was looking for. There were no potted palm trees on the boat and lots of empty glasses.

Bond reached the back of the lounge. Inspection over he turned to leave, when he saw her, casually walking towards an empty table. She fixed Bond with an inviting stare as she sat down. Her eyes locked onto his while her lids half closed in deference. There was something curiously familiar about the look. Bond wasn't supposed to be making contact, but he was drawn to the girl's emotionally static beauty. He approached the table and without asking took a seat opposite her.

The girl looked at him as if it was the most natural thing in the world. "Hello and good evening."

Up close she was even more startling. She wore the merest hint of make up. Her black eyes penetrated the low light. Her mouth begged to be kissed, hard and cruel. Bond could see why 439 fell for such a girl. She would not be compliant, more a fighter, like Bachman himself. She exuded sexual menace and unobtainability in equal measure. She would surely be a challenge in bed.

A waiter approached the table and Bond swiftly ordered two glasses of iced water. He wasn't in the mood for drinking any more. When he spoke to the girl, he tried not to sound irritable. "Is this a stupid question, but exactly who is following who here?"

"That depends on who you are."

"I'm the man you spoke to on the phone this morning. You are Lamai Sun Thorn?"

The girl made no comment. She gave Bond the same smouldering look through half hooded eyes. Bond shifted uneasily. He knew where he'd seen her before. A little over twenty four hours ago, briefly, behind a curtain of rain, as he walked towards the Crossroads cafe, he'd seen the girl being propositioned by a lonely old man. Bond had assumed she was a good time girl.

The girl gave a strained smile. "And you are James Bond."

"We aren't supposed to meet," he continued, "That's for your safety and security."

"But I am scared," the girl protested, awkwardly, "It was bad in Bangkok. But now they are here. They follow me everywhere."

There was a curious lilt to her voice, as though she was singing the words. It sounded less like a Thai accent the more Bond heard it.

"Who?" he questioned, urgently, "The M.I.S.?"

"That's who Stephen said they were. I don't know. I'm just an air hostess."

Bond sat back and cast a long glance around the room. There was an odd addition to the normal drinkers. To his left sat two men, wearing suits too smart and well cut to be out for a night on the town. They were not drinking or smoking, but watching – watching Bond and the girl.

Idly Bond slipped a hand onto the belt of his trousers, activating the secret camera. She seemed to notice the move, but made no comment. "No, you're not just an air hostess," said Bond, "You're something else entirely."

For the first time the girl became a little agitated, shaking her head a little. "You mean an adulteress?" she accused, "A kept woman or a whore? I loved Stephen. We were good together."

She offered a wry smile and fished into her small bag, producing a packet of Esse Lights. She removed a cigarette and Bond politely proffered his Ronson lighter.

"If you were together at all," he alluded sternly, holding out the flame for her. The girl stretched forward and Bond's other hand came up hard onto her wrist, taking hold and twisting, making her drop the cigarette. Bond dropped the lighter and caught her other hand as it swung out to slap him. Bond wrestled both her wrists onto the table. The girl grimaced, but Bond felt the muscles tensing underneath his palms. He wasn't hurting her that much. She struggled, making a show for anyone who wanted to watch.

"No! Stop it!" insisted Bond. She didn't desist, but her struggles lessened. "I want answers now. How do you know my name? Who are the two men in suits behind you? Why were you in the Crossroads cafe? Who, for god's sake, are you?"

"I told you. I'm Lamai."

No, thought Bond, she would call herself Soonie. "That's bullshit and you know it."

The girl's face took on a concentrated air. Focussed, Bond thought, on how to escape. She wriggled in her seat, flexing her arms, testing the strength of her wrists against Bond's hands. They were disturbed by the return of the waiter, who carried a small tray and two glasses of iced water. Confronted with such a discordant scene, he appeared confused, before addressing the girl in Slinglish, the island's unique patois of a language.

"Wah! This man bother you, no? He kena drunk?"

Bond smiled up at the man. "It's all right. She's a bit of a tiger." He relaxed his grip and the girl pulled herself free of his hands. She emitted a shriek of annoyance which ended in her ejecting a stream of saliva across Bond's face. Carefully he wiped his cheek with a napkin. "Or maybe that's a spitting cobra."

Despite the confrontation, the girl did not move from her seat. Nervously the waiter placed the tray on the table. Bond took out his wallet and, without asking, slapped a dollar note into his hand. The waiter was grateful to disappear.

Bond started to rise from his seat. "You'd best be careful. Next time I'll fight back."

The girl scowled at him. It didn't suit her exquisite face. Bond was past caring. Whatever it was the M.I.S. wanted, it wasn't Lamai Sun Thorn. They wanted whatever she was trying to off load. Which meant she was still somewhere on the boat. Bond saw the two suited men start towards him. He checked the exits, measuring distances, and as he did so a pretty, small and very nervous girl, dressed in black cotton trousers and a floral printed silk blouse appeared in the right hand doorway. It was the other girl from Bar None, the one with the permanent smile. She was holding a tall cocktail tumbler in her hand.

Without hesitation, Bond strode confidently across the floor towards her, confusing the men in suits. "Soonie, darling, you made it" he said loudly, and then, bending down to kiss her cheek, he hissed in her ear. "You said "Don't be late"."

"What?" was all she had time to say before Bond guided her through the entrance and down the corridor. He led her upstairs to the forward deck. Behind them the heavies were looking to the girl in blue for instructions.

"What the hell took you so long?" asked Bond urgently, pulling the girl into the masses on the upper deck.

She scuttled after him, a little confused. "My friends. They no wanna come. They still here. Somewhere."

"Tough. We're leaving."

Bond propelled the girl towards the gang plank. He took a quick look behind him. One of the suited heavies had made it to the prow of the boat and was balancing on the bottom rail, surveying the faces on the open deck. Bond wondered how long it would be before he turned to look at the quayside. He linked his arm with the girl's and walked with her down onto the esplanade, where they joined the other couples, groups and dog walkers strolling back and forth. Bond headed back towards one of the busy nightspot, where the clientele was spilling across the promenade. Once there, he glanced backwards. They'd been located and the other heavy and the girl in blue were already crossing the gangway. The girl was talking into a mobile phone.

"Come on." Bond pulled his new companion through the crush and towards the stone stairs leading up to the main road. He knew they would be spotted, but they wouldn't be seen once they were at street level.

Lamai Sun Thorn panted beside Bond as she took more steps to his big strides. He'd not realised quite how small she was. The top of her head did not even reach his shoulder. Bond noted she was wearing sensible flat shoes. Once on the street Bond headed south. He wanted to cross the road, but the traffic was moving fast. The two of them half walked, half ran along the pavement, dodging people who got in their way. At last they reached a crossing point at the next junction with Cecil Street. Suddenly the girl stopped, pulling Bond back. She nodded her head at something across the road. "Look!"

A man dressed in a familiar dark suit was making his way purposefully towards them. His hand was already dialling digits on his phone. Bond's intention had been to reach the nearest MRT station, but the man would report their escape route.

"I see him. He is always by my work," explained the girl, realisation creeping into her voice.

Dragging the girl with him, Bond took a chance and stepped into the road. The nearest car swerved, squealing to a halt as it did so. The second car behind swerved the opposite direction, avoiding a collision, but mounting the pavement. Horns blared in annoyance and Bond heard shouts of anger as he and the girl skirted the cars and continued to run along the white line in the middle of the one way street. The other lane of traffic had already slowed, drivers having seen the near miss. Bond saw a sizeable gap open between two taxis and, gambling that they were better drivers, yanked the girl into the space, completing the crossing diagonally. As Bond had anticipated, they and the man were now on a collision course.

The man was trying to do too many things at once. He couldn't talk on his phone, watch his quarry and the pedestrians. Bond's crossing startled him. Initially he had stopped dead, expecting the pair to be run over. As Bond and the girl ran for those few seconds in the middle of the road, the two parties had passed each other, the man almost open mouthed in surprise. He spun around as Bond and the girl reached the pavement. He was unprepared when they chose to turn towards him and, before he had taken three paces, Bond's elbow crashed into the side of his face, sending the phone spiralling out of his hand. The man grunted in pain and, aided by Bond's trip-kick at his ankles, he pirouetted sideways, landing in the gutter. The last thing he would remember was the sight and smell of black tarmac before the tyre of an oncoming car sank sickeningly into his skull.

Bond hadn't waited to view the result of his work. He and Lamai were already on Robinson Road. Bond refused to let go of her hand and she struggled to keep up. The pavement started to get busy with people and they had to walk to avoid the proliferation of hawkers with their tiny stalls selling trinkets or street food. There were more tourists here, guide books open and cameras in hands. Bond could smell fresh cooking. There was an abundance of spicy flavours in the air. Of course, he realised, ahead of them was the huge food court, Lau Pa Sat. It was a big, cathedral-like, open-sided iron building. The Victorians had erected it in the late 1800s and it had been a market place to rival some of London's, but once the traders had moved away, the hawkers moved in and now the place was a massive, vibrant eatery.

Bond and the girl crossed the road and passed under one of the great iron arches. Although there were street lamps outside, they provided nothing like the illumination here. It was almost painfully bright. The stalls followed the line of the iron arches, often backing onto one another. The open spaces were all taken up with masses of tables and chairs. Everywhere people were haggling over the price of meals. Almost all of the tables were occupied and people were eating and drinking and laughing. Bond smelt biryani sauce from an Indian stall. He could smell the fresh piquant of roasted chillies from the counter next to it. Further on fried onions and peppers were spitting on an open griddle. The cook threw on a handful of fresh calamari and the squid rings fizzed with the heat. Moving into the next hall, the waft of soto ayam soup hit Bond's nostrils, followed by the satisfying zing of fresh ginger and the aroma of basted duck. Every corner and every stall presented another delicious flavour. It was a gastronomic delight. Any other time, Bond would have sat down and maybe eaten spicy pork filets, noodles or won ton soup. But not now.

He found an empty table and motioned for the girl to sit. They were in the central court, its wrought iron arches stretching upwards to a point high above them. The halls stretched away from them in four directions, like four church naves, uniform and pillared, the metal vaulting white washed, reflecting the fluorescent light across the hallways. Now he wasn't running, Bond realised he was sweating profusely, droplets of moisture had formed in his hair and on his forehead and were running down his face. His back was sticky and he knew there were damp patches under his arms. He wiped his hands with his handkerchief while casting a practiced eye around the court. Their pursuers, if they were still in tow, would approach from much the same direction. Bond chose to sit facing the hall he and the girl had walked up. He had a clear view over the girl's shoulders. Annoyingly, she did not appear to be perspiring in the slightest.

"Why we running?" she asked, breathlessly, "What happened to that man?"

"I'm afraid he's dead. An accident," replied Bond, "You changed the rendezvous. Why?"

"You see that girl. I see her before. In Bangkok."

"They certainly know who you are. But they don't know what you've got," explained Bond, "It's me they're following now. And that puts us both in danger."

The girl's hands were shaking nervously on the table top. There was a lot she was taking in. A dead man. A vicious spy. Her own life in danger. Bond reached forward and lightly touched her hand. She looked up at him and, for the first time, Bond took in those deep hazel eyes. She was extremely pretty with unblemished smooth skin. She had slightly plump cheeks that added an innocent quality to her features and, if her nose was slightly broad, it only served to exaggerate her full lips which were always parted in a half smile, showing tiny flashes of her teeth. Her black hair was lustrous and hung a long way down her back. Her blouse was made of expensive silk, patterned with gold, red and silver feathers, and fastened at her midriff with a single button. A black bikini top kept her decent, although she had no shame about her body, which was, considered Bond, an excellent figure; small and perfectly formed, as they say.

The girl fished into her tiny black purse and pulled out a key with an aluminium fob numbered 3711 attached to it. "Stephen – he want me to give you this."

Bond took the object. "What is it?"

"Left luggage key. Bangkok airport."

"That's it?"

The girl shrugged and slumped back in her seat. In doing so, she allowed Bond an uninterrupted view of the hall. One of the heavies was making his way slowly through the mass of tables, checking to his left and right. Bond guessed there were not too many tall white men sitting with pretty Asian girls. He checked the other two approaches, but didn't see the other heavy or the girl in blue.

Bond leaned forward. "Soonie, it's time to be on the move again, okay?"

The girl nodded nervously. Bond told her to crouch down. He took a last look at the heavy, who was still a fair way off, and did likewise. Bent over, he led the girl in a low flight through the tables. They drew some curious glances as they gradually manoeuvred themselves down the east wing of the building, towards the quayside exit. Bond felt they had gone far enough and paused to check for any pursuers, raising his head above the level of the tables. Bond couldn't see any of the distinctive charcoal grey suits. He pulled the girl upright. They had hardly gone more than a few yards when there was a shout from the left hand side of the court. Startled, Lamai stopped and Bond bumped into her, knocking both of them into a table full of diners and spilling their beer. The protests were loud and animated. Through the waving arms, they both saw the girl in blue rushing towards them, her speed not impeded by high heels. Instinctively Bond took hold of the edge of the table and upended it, sending food, beer, trays, plates and cutlery into the air and across the floor and the diners. The girl slithered to a halt as the table spun towards her. It was followed by a stool that Bond threw underarm, aiming for her head. She ducked, slipping over onto her side with a single cry of pain.

Bond didn't wait to apologise to the livid diners, running instead towards the exit, Lamai at his side, keeping pace this time. Outside, Bond turned back towards the quays and they pushed their way through the bustle of pedestrians. Bond took another glance behind. No sign of the blue dress. No dark suits. No, wait. She was on the other side of the road, keeping them in view above the traffic. She didn't seem to be impaired by her fall. Bond urged Lamai to move faster, breaking into a run every time some space opened up before them. He wanted a taxi, but this was part of the Chinatown one way system and a taxi from here would only circle the enemy. They had to get back to One Fullerton, where the street became two-way. Bond hoped a heavy wasn't posted by the hotel.

They pressed on, Bond taking glances over his shoulder, seeing the blue dress making steady uninterrupted progress on the opposite pavement. She was using her phone again. Damn, thought, Bond, how many more of these goons could she call on? They were almost at the two-way street. Bond was inhaling big gulps of air, the humidity playing with his natural rhythmic breathing. The car fumes didn't help. It was a sweaty, dirty chase. Suddenly, gratefully, the two contrary streams of traffic came together at a t-junction. Bond deliberately glanced across the road. The bitch was still on her mobile, talking urgently. She stared directly at Bond, her expression one of resentment and controlled aggression. She made no attempt to cross the street. It occurred to Bond she was probably unarmed.

A pedestrian signal was beeping and Bond stepped into the road. He glanced up the street. There were plenty of Smartcabs, their lights illuminated. Bond hailed one and it pulled over. He bundled Lamai inside, taking a final hasty view of the girl in blue. She seemed to be gazing past Bond at something further down the street. Bond turned his head to look. Some way down the road, weaving through the traffic, were two motorcycles, their riders decked in dark suits and black crash helmets.

"Shit!" he exclaimed and got into the cab. "Tanglin," he ordered the driver, "Quick as you can."

It was unlikely to be quick at all. Singapore had a notoriously circuitous one way system and they were at the wrong end of it for the British High Commission. The taxi pulled away, Bond staring through the rear window. He could see one of the motorcycles had stopped, allowing the girl to hop on and ride pillion. Saving time, she flaunted the law by refusing to wear a helmet.

"What the matter?" asked the girl.

"Our friends don't give up easily," replied Bond. This was a very active pursuit. Bond's fingers played with the key in his jacket pocket. All this for a key.

There was a roar of an accelerating motorbike outside his window. One of the cyclists came alongside the taxi, matching it for speed. It was a Phantom 200, a common hire model. Bond could see the Honda logo and the hire plate. Suddenly the taxi driver shouted something unintelligible. The cyclist had veered even closer to the car, so close he could touch it – which was exactly what he did, reaching out with his foot and stamping on the door. More abuse from the cabbie. Lamai grabbed Bond's arm, gesturing. He twisted in his seat. The other motorcycle, an identical model, was approaching on the driver's side. The cabbie saw it too. He slowed down, trying to take evasive action, but both cyclists stuck close. Once again the first rider kicked out at the taxi.

They were now on Esplanade Bridge heading into the colonial district. Bond was trying to look through all the windows at once, tense and agitated. What he would have given to be driving. The cabbie was going too slow. He had to accelerate out of the problem, overtake the cars in front. Bond could see the gap. But the poor man was too scared. Bond saw the first bike closing in again. Another thump, this time to the rear of the taxi. Bond was more interested in the second bike. The girl was pulling something out of the rider's jacket. She steadied herself, one hand on the saddle frame behind her. The other hand was now holding a big grey automatic. It looked like a 9mm KBP, the one that fires armour piercing bullets. As Bond watched, the girl took aim at the car. The wind rush was whipping at her dress and hair, creating a strangely erotic, heroic sight. She fired three times.

Instinctively, Bond threw himself across Lamai. The gun shots sounded as if they were inside the cab. There were loud smacks of metal on metal followed by a powerful bang and the driver lost control of the taxi. It skidded across the road, scraped the side of another vehicle and then, the steering wheel spinning furiously as the cabbie stupidly let go, it careered towards the pedestrian footway. The car thudded into the protecting barriers, dislodging two or three blocks of stone and came to rest, a crumpled mess at the front end. Bond opened his door and almost fell out of the taxi onto the road. He could hear Lamai sobbing behind him. Poor bitch, he thought.

Cars had screeched about them, but with the taxi effectively off the carriageway, the traffic was moving again. Bond saw the two motorcycles completing u-turns in the road. Bond pulled out his Walther, removing the safety. He used the door as a brace and without hesitation, he let off several rounds. The tyre on the first motorbike exploded and the wheel collapsed, the rider catapulted over the handle bars, the bike turning in the air above him. Bond heard the man's neck break on impact, an awful crunching sound that penetrated even the traffic noise. The second bike swerved to avoid the accident. More of Bond's bullets zipped about them. They drove on several yards, slowing down and mingling with the traffic to escape Bond's fire, the girl looking behind her at the chaos. She couldn't shoot. There were too many cars in the way now, too many of them stopping.

Bond pulled Lamai out of the taxi, shaking her violently as he did so, snapping her out of her misery. "Come on, Soonie," he urged, "Run!" He pushed her ahead of him. They ran crouching, Bond listening out for the whip crack of bullets. When they reached the end of the bridge, she sensibly vaulted the barriers. Suddenly there were more bangs and a chunk of masonry flew into the air next to Bond. He ducked, his gun arm extended, turning at the same time, searching for his target. They weren't close. The shots had been lucky. Bond's view of the motorbike was partially obscured by the passing cars. They were changing position again, moving closer and then, just for a second, they appeared in full view. Bond fired off more shots, but his target had moved too fast and the bullets cannoned into the side of a car. The Walther clicked empty. Cursing, Bond decided not to hesitate any longer and followed Lamai over the barrier.

The girl ran like a sprinter now, fear making her legs move faster than she had ever known. She ran past the gaudy, conical auditoriums of the Bay Theatres, the lights blurring through her tears. She ignored everyone and everything. She ran through the gates of the Marina Park, decorated with dragons for the Lunar New Year Fair. The sudden crush of people made her slow down. This was where Bond caught up with her. When he grabbed her arm, she screamed. Bond pulled her close, squeezing her tight against his chest, until her struggles ceased. But her tears didn't stop and her bosom heaved as the huge uncontrollable sobs overtook her. Bond whispered soothing words and sounds in her hair. She clung to him like a child. It was a delay Bond could do without, but the girl would be a complete encumbrance if he didn't calm her down. They could have been standing like this, wrapped in each other, for minutes. Bond knew it was a lot less. Even so, he knew that bitch and her goons would be after them.

Bond relaxed his hold. He brushed Lamai's hair from her face. She was more controlled, although her face was a frightened one. Her beautiful eyes were puffy and bloodshot.

"Listen to me, Soonie," began Bond, grasping her shoulders and giving her constant eye contact, "We will be okay. You have to trust me. But you must do as I say. Do you understand?"

Lamai nodded. "Good," he continued, "I want you to walk ahead of me. Do not run. Walk. Go straight through the park. Do not stop. When you get to the exit, wait there. I will be with you in a few seconds."

She nodded again. Bond turned her around and gave her a little push to set her on her way. When she had taken a few faltering steps, Bond followed. As he walked he quickly reloaded his weapon. He wasn't bothered if anybody saw him, but he didn't think anyone would notice in the hubbub of the crowds. He tucked the Walther into the waistband of his trousers, keeping it covered with his jacket, and leaving his hand resting on the butt of the gun. The walk seemed to take forever. It wasn't even half a mile, but the sounds of the fairground hawkers, the rollercoasters, the whirligigs, and the ringing ding-a-ling music seemed to go on and on. Bond watched every corner, every stall. He looked first ahead, then over his shoulder, then to the right, next ahead, his shoulder, his left and then he repeated the series, each time watching for that blue dress or those dark suits. The sweat that poured off him wasn't just from the running; it was from tension, apprehension, dread.

It was time to call in the cavalry. With his left hand, Bond took out his mobile phone. Thank God for voice recognition! Bond called Allenbury's private number. The attaché listened to Bond's succinct story. To Bond's relief, he was decisive.

"We'll get a car out to you. I'll come myself. Where are you?"

"The Marina Park."

"Are you being followed now?"

"I can't see them. They won't have given up. Thing's have been getting nasty."

"Quite. Go to the Pan Pacific Hotel. The police station is just around the corner. I'll speak to them on my way."

Where was the girl? He blinked to clear his vision. She was still there, moving faster now, steadily. His legs were tired and his chest ached. His head pounded. Bond had a vague recollection of hitting something during the car crash. He could see the gateway ahead. Bond's grip tightened on the gun. They could be waiting there. Bond had to catch up with Lamai. The girl reached the gateway and, exactly as instructed, she waited, turning around. Bond was with her in an instant, linking her arm.

"Good girl," he praised. There was a controlled crossing point and they took it. The hotel wasn't far. Bond kept looking about him, ushering Lamai forward. They made it and entered the spectacular atrium bathed in rich red, rising forty storeys to the top of the pinnacle tower. Illuminated lanterns of crimson hung the full distance. Glinting indoor balconies surrounded the walls on all sides. Bond headed for the elevator. He punched a button marked "Hai Tien Lo Cantonese Restaurant." The lift started its smooth ascent. Bond took hold of the rail and watched the atrium floor retreat from them.

Lamai watched him warily. "Who are you?" she asked, "What's your name?"

"James Bond."

"Thank you, James Bond."

Bond doffed his head towards her. She was an exceptionally pretty girl. She was more composed now. She clearly felt safe here. Bond smiled. "It's all part of the service. When we get out of this mess, you can thank me again. I'll buy you dinner. That isn't part of the service."

The flippant remark drew the trace of a smile across her lips. The lift stopped and the girl got out. Bond took one last look down and immediately regretted it. On the atrium floor he could see two suited characters looking about themselves. Next to them a figure in a blue dress was staring up at the elevator. Even at this distance, Bond sensed her cold, magnetic stare.

Bond asked if they could sit at the bar. Of course they could. The Hai Tien Lo restaurant occupied one half of the 37th floor. Every table had a spectacular view across the city or the East Coast Park, the floor to ceiling windows revealing the glittering avenues of life below them. The navy blue carpets complimented the night sky, which was clear bar the twinkling of stars. The restaurant was about half full. Waiters and waitress, all immaculately attired, hurried around offering coffees and clearing tables. Bond hadn't realised how late it was. The clocks were well past eleven.

Bond took a position at the bar where he could see the entrance. He ordered Coca-Cola's for them both. He wiped his soaking hands on a napkin, thankful for the icy cold air conditioning that would keep them dry. Lamai detected his unease. She gently touched his arm. "What's wrong?"

"There's going to be more shooting," admitted Bond, "When it starts, get on the floor and stay there."

Bond placed his hand on his gun, pulling it free from his trousers. Three against one: not good odds. In his favour was the slimness of the entrance; a pair of smoked glass doors were held in the open position and two people could not quite pass side by side. Anyone turning the corner into the big half-circular room would be directly in Bond's view. He heard the chime of the lift coming to rest. It would be seconds now. Bond's grip tightened. He could feel the power of the gun in his hand. His muscles began to relax. He had been in this place many times before. It was a moment of fate and he accepted it. He didn't concern himself with his life. He only knew he wanted to live. But he did care about people like Lamai Sun Thorn, people caught up in a game they were not born to play. And now her life rested on Bond's skill. He wasn't afraid. He had been close to death. It didn't frighten him any longer. He didn't have any ghosts to concern himself with.

The sounds of commotion from the foyer outside alerted Lamai to the sudden danger. The first man came rushing through the entrance and Bond stood up, his gun arm rising to the firing position. Lamai threw herself on the floor as he pulled the trigger.

Bond hadn't missed, but the man's momentum still carried him forward. He hadn't seen them, but as he twisted, the man fired wild shots in their direction. Lamai heard the shattering of glass as the bullets ripped holes in the windows behind them. Bond had dived sideways, blood spurting from a wound on his arm. He was now aiming along the floor and as soon as the man's head hit the carpet, he fired again. The man's face disappeared into a mass of blood and bone.

Bond grimaced. The recoil from firing along the floor had jarred his elbow. He'd been winged too, but at such close range the stray slug had passed straight through his upper arm. The wound looked nastier than it was. There was confusion in the restaurant. Screams and cries of fear were mixed with shouts of alarm. Most people were on the floor or under the tables. Let them stay there. The two broken window panes continued to crack and fall, increasing the size of the holes. Hot scything blasts of wind whipped into the restaurant, blowing cloths and napkins into the air. Absurdly a Singapore fifty dollar note whistled past Bond's face.

Bond crawled to the end of the bar. The dead man's body was opposite him, the carpet splattered with a green and crimson gunk. The other heavy and the girl would be in the foyer. Bond peered upwards and was just able to make out the reflection of the other man in the glass. Bond watched the reflection for a few seconds. The man was edgy, nervous; this probably wasn't his normal line of work. Bond detected the worry on the man's face; all he needed was a diversion. Bond fished in his pocket, searching. He still had the business card for The Chrysanthemum and The Sword. Casually, he flicked it across the entrance way and a gust of wind caught it, spiralling it around in the air.

The man's nerves betrayed him. Bond saw his head turn, startled, forgetting the location of his target. Instantly, Bond rolled across the entrance way, rising to a kneeling position, his gun arm thrust forward to shoot. The man saw him too late and the Walther P99 spat flame. The bullets hit the man in the shoulder and the chest, propelling him backwards into the foyer. It was only his bulk that kept him upright. He staggered towards the balcony railings, waving the revolver.

Bond stood up, his gun arm fully extended, braced with his left hand. The man's revolver swung his way and Bond delivered the coup de grace. He took no chances and the Walther cracked time after time, the shots reverberating in the small space, adding echo to echo. The man's chest exploded into a bloody eruption and he stumbled backwards, propping himself up on the rail. His trigger finger tightened and bullets ripped aimlessly into the floor and walls. Bond kept firing until finally the man dropped the weapon and allowed his sagging, heavy body to tumble over the rail. He fell without a scream, but there was a distant crash as he landed on something far beneath them.

The girl in blue had pinned herself against the elevator doors, her dress and face now splashed with garish red blood. She was unarmed. There was no room for a weapon on her skimpy outfit and nothing in her hands. Bond fitted a new cartridge into his gun. Menacingly, step-by-step he approached her, the gun loose at his side, until they stood face to face. She still smelt of jasmine.

For the first time, she seemed vulnerable. She took on a feminine, sensual posture, her lips parting into that tempting pout that ached to be kissed. The girl's beautiful face, long legs and firm body was still intoxicating, whether she was a tiger, a cobra or a killer. Bond pressed the call button and the doors slid open. The girl stepped backwards into the lift and some of her old demeanour returned. She cast Bond a look of equal contempt and desire. He pressed for the ground floor and the doors slid shut between them.

*************************

The girl didn't get away. Allenbury and the police apprehended her in the atrium. She wasn't alone either, there was another man waiting outside the hotel. All the heavies worked for Burma's Military Intelligence Service and, after some questioning, diplomacy came to play and the two surviving culprits were deported. Relationships between Burma and Singapore were likely to be frosty for some time.

Bond had learnt this as he recovered in Mount Elizabeth Hospital. M had been quietly pleased with his work. They had sent a man from the Malay Division, along with a Thai police escort, to empty the contents of the luggage locker. The M.I.S. had been watching Lamai so close, she'd not chanced removing Bachman's evidence herself. All in all, M summarised, with typical understatement, a good job done, if a slightly messy one. Bond smiled ruefully. He'd caused a big stir and Allenbury had to do a lot of work to smooth things over with the Singapore authorities.

Best of all, Bond was signed off until his wound healed. He chose to spend it under mild police observation on Sentosa Island. He set himself up in the Rasa Hotel, where he swam in the pool and the sea, played golf on the championship course, ate fabulously, drank extravagantly and slept in a beautiful terrace suite overlooking the South China Sea.

Lamai Sun Thorn did join him for dinner as he promised and they enjoyed a huge platter of lobsters and lemon scented rice. She was a delicate dinner companion, clearly still in love with Stephen Bachman and deeply effected by her recent experiences. Her company had also given her time off, and she had decided to go home to Bangkok as soon as a suitable position arose. She thanked him with a large bouquet of roses and a very dainty kiss on the lips. Bond reflected sadly that she resembled a flower cut from its stem; beautiful, but now, bitterly, lifeless.

After ten days, he had to reluctantly return to London. It had been a long Christmas holiday, although not exactly what he'd expected when setting off from a chilly Heathrow in late December.

James Bond settled back into his big first class seat on Qantas Flight 319, moaning to himself about the cold English weather. A pretty blonde stewardess, whose name he recalled was Eve, said hello and beamed her big sunny smile at him. Bond replied with an equally cheerful hello and asked if she remembered how to make a champagne cobbler. Perhaps, he considered, things wouldn't be quite so chilly in London after all.